Review: I Will Go to the Alter of God

A NATIVE of Poland survived the Nazi and Communist regimes, but that’s only part of the experiences revealed by in his newest book, “I Will Go to the Altar of God: What It took to Become a Priest in Communist Poland.”

Mazgaj, who now resides in West Virginia, tells about the suffering during the war as well as happier times and about his efforts to become a Roman Catholic priest and later an Episcopal priest.

While recalling incidents throughout his life, he shows how he loves to work with people.

Despite the problems created by the Nazi and Communist political and military systems, Mazgaj kept his strong faith.

The epilogue to his book points out the fall of the Nazis and Communists and then notes, “At the same time, Christianity founded on the principle of love, as proclaimed by Jesus Christ, remains and grows in spiritual strength from century to century and from millennium to millennium.”

His 488-page book not only tells about life on the farms and villages in Poland, but also focuses on that country’s rich past.

Many of the people’s last names mentioned are familiar ones in the Ohio Valley.

Descriptions of special times such as Christmas, Lent and Easter abound, and there are celebrations which are part of everyday life.

He also emphasizes the importance of family and tells how he was helped while studying for the priesthood.

The addition of photographs, personal as well as of others and church buildings, helps to deepen a reader’s interest.

An interesting one of a church building shows the baroque interior of St. Michael’s Seminary Church in Sandomierz, Poland. Another is a familiar one in Eastern Ohio as it is the St. John Vianney Major Seminary Campus in Bloomingdale.

Mazgaj, who received permission from Bishop John King Mussio to be a priest in the Diocese of Steubenville, mentions the beautiful land around the seminary in Bloomingdale, describing it as “an earthly paradise.”

Telling of his family background and childhood, the author noted when he was a member of the Polish Home Army and involved with the underground newspaper, Odwet (The Revenge), during World War II.

After noting the friendliness between the Polish forces and the Red Army soldiers and lower-ranking officers in 1944, Mazgaj went on to say that when the Russian’s National Commissariat of the Internal Affairs “learned that we were part of the Polish Home Army, subject to the Polish Government in London, we were requested to either join the Red Army or to disarm.” Neither request was acceptable to the Home Army so its top commanding officer decided in utmost secrecy to lead them to the part of Poland still under German control to continue the fight.

At various places in the book, he tells of mass executions by the Nazis, including one in which a girl is found alive.

Then, too, there was an incident in which a Polish congregation saved their church bells from being seized by the Nazis.

After the war, the Communists created problems for the Polish people, and the nationalist organization faced extreme difficulties.

The Communist government did everything possible to close the seminaries and theological schools in Poland, but actions were taken to circumvent their intentions.

Mazgaj himself faced problems with the Communistic Public Security Police and later feared that the ones located in Sandomierz would attempt to invalidate his passport when he was going to the United States in 1957.

His book tells about studies and work in the United States.

After being ordained as a priest, Mazgaj completed his graduate studies in theology, earning master’s and doctor’s degrees.

He began graduate studies in canon law in Poland and completed it at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

For graduate studies in philosophy, he went to Duquesne University, receiving a master’s degree and completing course work for a doctorate.

Mazgaj married Mildred Juanita Ankrom in 1972, and they have two sons.

In addition to his church work, he taught at the St. John Major Seminary in Bloomingdale and also at two campuses of Penn State University.

Mazgaj has published more than 100 articles, commentaries and essays in addition to writing four books.

Copies of “I Will Go to the Altar of God” are available at Words and Music at Stratford Springs, 4 Hyde Park Drive, Wheeling (Telephone: (304) 232-6539).

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